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Chicago Teachers Union says most members don’t want to go back to school without clear safety precautions

The CTU conducted a survey that offers a glimpse into teachers’ anxiety as they’re faced with the prospect of returning to school.

A CTU survey offers a glimpse into teachers’ anxiety as they’re faced with the prospect of returning to schools when the pandemic is likely to still be raging on.
Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday that in a survey of its members, about 40% of the 4,800 teachers who responded believed in-classroom instruction should not resume until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, even if that’s a year from now.

The survey is not representative of the union’s 26,000 members, but it offers a glimpse into teachers’ anxiety as they’re faced with the prospect of returning to schools packed with students in less than two months’ time, when the pandemic is likely to still be raging on.

The CTU sent a press release to members of the media detailing what the union said were the results of the survey that garnered responses from about a fifth of members. But a spokeswoman would not provide the underlying data from the questionnaire.

A document sent to members said more than 85% of survey respondents believed teachers “should not or might not go back to work” without daily testing and temperature checks; a nurse and social worker at every school; new safety teams advising school leaders and socially distant transportation options for students.

More than two-thirds of respondents said in-person classes shouldn’t resume without masks and gloves provided to every person who enters a school; daily sanitizing of surfaces in all buildings; smaller class sizes and hand-washing stations, according to the CTU.

And about three-quarters of those who answered the survey said they were “not at all comfortable or mostly uncomfortable with the idea of medically compromised educators being asked to work in-person,” the union said.

The document sent to members also includes almost 200 ideas sent by members for a safe reopening in the fall, from using infection rates to determine the viability of returning to classrooms to staggering the start and end times for different teachers and students.

“We’re not blind to the fact that this is a tremendous undertaking, and it’s going to take the re-imagining of how we deliver public education,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates was quoted as saying in the news release. “This pandemic has already transformed how we teach, and how our students learn, and now is the time for CPS and districts across the country to transform themselves.”

Davis Gates told the Sun-Times a day earlier that she finds it “hard to believe” that schools will be ready in time for the fall because “very basic questions around safety, around health, have yet to be answered.”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, speaks to reporters outside the Thompson Center, after the governor announced closures of public and private schools statewide due to COVID-19, Friday, March 13, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, speaks to reporters outside the Thompson Center, after the governor announced closures of public and private schools statewide due to COVID-19, Friday, March 13, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton said a draft of the district’s guidelines is still being developed and will be released in the coming weeks for input from parents, teachers and students.

What is already certain, she said, is that CPS will provide a “limited set” of masks to all students and staff, hand sanitizer will need to be available, school buildings will need to be regularly cleaned and students and staff will receive daily temperature checks. Bolton said CPS will provide masks to all students and staff.

The district had trouble in the spring giving hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to schools.